Legacy Tree Onsite: Navigating Italy’s Archives for Family Research
Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers from across the globe to access records for our clients. We asked one of our on-site researchers in Italy to explain how to navigate the complex maze of archives in Italian Research.
It is incredible to me that America, as a country, is older than Italy!
Between 1859 and 1870, the various territories in the peninsula came together to unify the country, but it would be another 76 years before a constitution was written and Italy declared a Republic.
All of the above dramatically affects the organization and archiving of documents. In Italy, this comes under the direction of the Ministro per i beni e le attività culturali e per il turismo (Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and for Tourism) except the Vatican Archives, as this is technically a different country.
The Vatican Archives includes documents from the former Papal States and the current Vatican government archives. It has 50 miles of shelving that stores state papers, correspondence, account books, and many other documents that the church has accumulated back to the 8th century.
To access these archives you need to have a university degree, be a member of a prestigious historical society and have your application approved by the Vatican.
Of interest to Family History researchers:
- After World War II the Vatican asked each parish to inventory their parochial registers and report back to the Vatican. The Vatican published the findings in a book. The website http://italianparishrecords.org holds a copy of this rare book, and they will do lookups to help you determine if the parish records you need survived World War II.
- Certificates for Weddings and Baptismals held at the Vatican can be obtained from the parish priest. (Parish Priest Tel. +39 06 69883653
Ufficio Parrocchiale Tel. +39 06 69885435 Fax : +39 06 69885793)
Navigating the Maze
There is a maze of websites and organizations involved in the various subcategories of archives in Italy. These include SIUSA, which is the access point for public and private documents not conserved at the State Archives. These include important families, the inquisition, and the Historical Archives of six Venetian Churches, etc.
By far, the most critical advance in facilitating access to the anagraphical documents essential for genealogical research in Italy was the cooperative efforts between Family Search and the Direzione Generale Archivi to facilitate the creation of the ANTENATI website: http://dl.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/en.
Archivio di Stato Centrale mainly stores government and political papers. If your ancestor was involved in politics, subversive activities, or the government, this might provide some information to flesh out your family history but not increase your family tree. Also conserved are the Military Tribunal records from 1834–1999 and officer books from 1920. It is unlikely that the documents from the Archivo di Stato Centrale will be digitized and uploaded to the Antenati site.
Archivio di Stato
There are 0ne or more archives located in each Italian province responsible for archiving civil records, notary archives, taxation records, court proceedings, and military records. The civil records held at the State Archives of Italy have been or will be uploaded to the Antenati site. You can check the upload progress at the ‘Land and the Sources’ tab. Some pages are available in English. Each State Archive has a list of its ‘patrimonio’ (heritage documents), not all of which will be uploaded to the site. Military records, or Foglio Matricolare, are included, and one can obtain copies by email for those ancestors who served in the military. The Lista di Leva lists who were eligible for service, not necessarily those who served.
Of particular interest to genealogists researching southern Italy is the State Archives in Naples. Founded by Napoleon in 1808, its 31,000 miles of shelving conserve many antique documents that existed before 1808 including the Catasto Onciaro for various towns in the former ‘Regno.’ This tax document created between 1742 and 1753 can be a valuable source of information of family members, property, and animal holdings. The Catasto Onciaro will not be uploaded to the Antenati site.
The Tribunal Archives hold court proceedings and also archive the second copy of civil records after 1865 produced by each Comune. Genealogical researchers should note that war and other natural disasters can affect the availability of records. For example, the Tribunal of Cassino was badly damaged during WWII, and most of its civil records were destroyed. Salvaged documents were digitized by Family Search and will eventually be available on the Antenati site. The Tribunal of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi was destroyed in a major earthquake in 1980. Fortunately, their civil records were digitized by Family Search before this major disaster and are available on the Antenati site. The surviving documents were transferred to the State Archives in the above two instances and are therefore available on the Antenati site. Tribunal documents, as a rule, are not held at the State Archives and are therefore not covered by the agreement between Family Search and can therefore be viewed at a Family History Center or online at their website, familysearch.org.
The Comune Archives may or may not be inventoried and organized or available for research purposes, but should be able to provide you with documentation for civil records from 1866 or 1870 to the present day. The town offices may also have conserved the Lista di Leva and other military documents, but they are not obliged to search for or provide copies of these documents. Depending on the town, you may find such gems as a register of the population, “state of the family” records, census records, registers of those who contracted cholera, payments made to ‘wet nurses,’ and various tax records available to on-site researchers.
Diocesan Archives vary in archival content and concentrate more on Diocese activities than parochial ones. You may find “stato delle anime” for their parishes and marriage ‘processetti’ when the couple was from different parishes. Many Dioceses have begun collecting parish registers from the 1800s and archiving them in the Diocese offices. They may also hold records of criminal and civil cases, ‘freedom to marry’ certificates issued by the Diocese, and in some cases duplicate copies of parish registers. Be sure to check their websites for their ‘archivio storico.’ Some are publishing their inventory; others are not.
Brefotrofio Archives are in the major population centers like Rome, Naples, Torino, Messina, and some smaller centers. They will usually have ‘intake’ records of abandoned babies and records of the families that fostered the babies.
With all of these archives and resources available for research in Italy, learning more about your ancestors can be a very rewarding experience. It may take time and effort to determine where the records of your ancestors are kept and obtain copies of them, but our genealogists have a lot of experience in this area and can help you get the information you need. Our on-site researchers are especially helpful in retrieving records that must be obtained in person.
At Legacy Tree, our genealogists are skilled at finding hard-to-obtain records. With researchers all over the globe, there are few places beyond our reach. Contact us today for a free quote!